As the great snow struck on Wednesday night, we happened to be sitting by the fire with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Specifically, I was reading aloud from "Little House in the Big Woods," the first in the cycle of memoirs of life in the 1870s that is a staple of American childhood. "Laura listened to the wind in the Big Woods. All around the house the wind went crying as though it were lost in the dark and the cold. The wind sounded frightened," went the story. The children lay listening, as candlelight flickered across their faces.

It so happened that, like the people in the story, we (and 400,000 other Pepco customers) were making do without such newfangled doohickeys as electric lights, central heating, or Wi-Fi.

That first night was lovely. Losing electricity gave romantic savor to the story we were reading about a snowbound family in the forests of Wisconsin. The atmosphere was perfect, with the soft hush of damp snow outside and the whisper and crackle of the burning logs within.

We read how on long winter journeys, travelers would slip hot baked potatoes into their pockets. And how children in horse-drawn sleighs would snuggle deep beneath blankets and skins. That night, the younger children bundled in together under heaps of downy bedclothes and the lambskins they'd slept on as babies. We pretended they were bedding down in the Big Woods.

But oh, how the commonplace luxuries of modern life have dulled the frontier edge! By the next morning, almost everyone was losing his or her sense of humor.

"I want the power to go onnnn ..." moaned one teenager.

"My phone is running out of chaaaarge ..." moaned another.

"I'm freeeeezing ..." said a third person.

And: "Oh, no, not another game of Scraaaaable ..."

If it is embarrassing to contemplate how ill-equipped our modern houses are when the power goes out -- all those appliances, and all useless -- how much is worse the softness of the children we've been raising in them. Indeed, how scandalous our own weakness! I found myself eyeing with contempt and resentment the glowing house of neighbors who had the foresight to install a generator after Snowmaggeddon last year. I scorned them for their feebleness -- but I envied them more.

"Pathetic! Ridiculous! Spoiled!" cried a fellow mother of five, who, like us, still had no power on Friday and who was appalled at her children's lack of backbone and gumption. She berated them, Tiger-Mother-style. "When I was growing up, we didn't have central heating and we didn't snivel about it!" she said.

Naturally, I agreed with her. It was very shocking.

Under the circumstances, I decided not to dwell on the fact that, by that point, we'd already given in. Fed up with our dark, chilly house, we bailed. On the second night without power, in contravention of all our robust pioneer intentions, we took refuge in the blissfully cozy home of neighbors upon whom the gods of Pepco had, luckily, never stopped smiling.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at